Sorry for the loooong delay between my last blog post and this one (and thank you for your patience!). I’ve been so busy with packing up my life, moving, working and exercising! Basically doing all I can to prepare and set the foundation to achieve this seemingly distant and unachievable dream of mine.
Without further ado, here is my story on my journey from Malaysia to India. I split this blog into three parts (before, during and after my flight) and I’ve written this blog in a narrative-style with a side of ‘Quick Mei-Tips’ from my learning experiences.
For those who have a short attention span like me, I’ve summarised my tips into dot points below. If I’ve written something in italics after, I’ve decided to give a little commentary 😊 If you want to read more about any of my tips, click on the tip dot-point and you’ll get taken down to the area of my story where I got the tip from.
I hope you enjoy!!!
Quick Mei-Tips (not in chronological order)
- Do not get a massage at the airport for an international flight if you think you have enough time but haven’t even gone through immigration or security yet, unless you obviously have HEAPS of time.
- If you’re flying in or out during a festive season in any country, allow an extra hour for the extra delays at the airport. Take it as a stress insurance.
- You (don’t really) need a flight out of India to be granted your tourist visa.
- Make sure you bring a padlock with you for hostels!
- Do not over-plan your accommodation. If you use booking.com for accommodation in India and want to cancel after, you can usually cancel without any extra fees. Your room/bed isn’t usually pre-paid for and seems like most hostels deal with payment in person.
- If you’re staying in a hostel or sharing a room in any way – prepare your stuff for the next day the night before when everyone is awake to minimise noise and guilt.
- If you use booking.com for India note that no pre-payment is done via the website. You have to pay the full amount in person.
- Always make sure you have the cash amount of the cost of your accommodation before you get to the place. Not all places accept card in India.
- Be prepared for cold showers in India. Hot showers are a luxury.
Meeting people and communication – telephone & sim card
- If you want to catch up with anyone you meet, get more than one contact detail (get a mobile number, facebook ID and email address too!) or know your facebook ID in advance.
- Be aware that sim cards take up to 48 hours to activate in India and you need your original passport to get a sim card.
- If you’re going to Delhi, do not get a sim card at the airport. Organise it at a local telephone shop or through the reception desk at your place of accommodation. You pay an airport premium if you get it at the airport.
- Take a picture of the receipt you’re given with your sim card with the details to set up the sim card.
- Always ask the price of things before you agree to getting any service and check your options. Find out how much a taxi ride should cost and how to pronounce your destination in the local language.
- If you’re on a budget, don’t organise a driver from the airport.
- Be aware of the airport transport scams!
- Travel light. Use a backpack.
- It’s safer to avoid drinking tap water, but you can risk it if you’re daring enough. If you risk it, you must be willing to accept the consequence of Delhi belly.
- Don’t believe everything someone says – remember that you should see things yourself and learn the hard way…if it’s even the hard way.
Part 1: the night before flying – a night in KL
Some of my cousins were coincidentally going back home to KL the day before I was flying to India so it made sense to tag along and crash with them. Even though I just wanted to fly straight away (I was more than ready to start my trip), it gave me a chance to re-explore the capital city of my home country. And boy am I glad I did – I certainly maximised the time I had, even if it was extremely limited.
I finally got to go on the hunt for curry puffs because I never found any in Ipoh even though I was longing to eat them the whole time I was in Malaysia. But even that was a struggle.
Persistence pays off though! Who would have thought that I’d find some in IKEA???
After one last night of feasting and drinking, I had my final sleep in KL and woke up to my last day in Malaysia.
I got the opportunity to drink some GOOD coffee, do some last-minute shopping, feast and eat my favourite foods. We found some more curry puffs in a main shopping centre in KL and they had exactly the flaky and crispy texture I was looking for ~ delicious! I wish I took a picture of them to show you.
After I gathered up some last-minute goodies…my cousin took me to the airport.
The time had finally arrived! My journey was about to begin.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure how I felt. I had mixed emotions. I was excited to have space again and for a new adventure, but I was nervous about doing my first solo trip in India! And to add to my concerns, I was arriving at night by myself…eek!
Part 2: KL airport and my flight – the beginning of my journey
My cousin and I left super early in anticipation of bad traffic but it wasn’t so bad so I had plenty of time to spare. After checking in my luggage, I had an extra 2.5 hours to preoccupy myself. I ended up getting a short 30 minute massage because I’m not going to lie, I LOVE massages and I had plenty of time to spare (or so I thought!). At the time, I thought it was a brilliant idea…but I couldn’t be more wrong.
Tip #1 do not get a massage at the airport for an international flight if you think you have enough time but haven’t even gone through immigration or security yet, unless you obviously have HEAPS of time
During my massage – instead of zoning out and relaxing, my mind was racing…I couldn’t rest! I kept on wondering whether I had enough time to make it to the gate because I knew I still had a few security checkpoints and immigration to get through. All I could think about during my massage was – “what if I miss my flight or miss hearing an announcement?” So every time an announcement was made, I listened really hard to what was being said. I honestly have never been so excited for a massage to finish in my life!
When I was finally free to go, I quickly walked over to the information screens which give you details on your flight, gate number and all that important jazz. I saw my flight status was already LAST CALL.
My jaw dropped. My heart sunk….
The first thought that came to my mind was– “F^%$%^@!!!! I still have to go through immigration and security and I’ve got just under two hours.”
I took a deep breath and thought “everything will be fine” and moved forward. I walked to the immigration area…the line was MASSIVE and there were very little staff working. I was wondering if I’d even get through this line on time (it must have been busier since most people were returning home from Chinese New Year).
Tip #2 if you’re flying in or out during a festive season in a country, allow an extra hour for the extra delays at the airport. Take it as a stress insurance.
I finally made it through after about an hour. I had about 50 minutes left so I rushed to the second security x-ray point. PHEW! I made it with plenty of time to spare! (or so I thought) And there was barely a line (yes!!!!) I quickly went through and I saw the information screen which told me my flight was boarding… “F*&^%*^!!!”
I started speed walked towards my gate…only to find ANOTHER security x-ray checkpoint and this time with another massive line which moved just as slow as the immigration line (FML). I had 45 minutes left and was really starting to worry because my boarding pass said that they close the gate 20 minutes before the departure time which effectively meant that I had 25 minutes to get to the gate. Not only was the line long but there were many issues while I was waiting to get through. So many people had things in their bags which needed to be checked by security and I remember the security guard even screaming at someone at one point. By this stage, I was getting extremely impatient and thinking about asking everyone in front of me to let me push to the front of the line, but I refrained because of my silly need to feel like I have manners, even at crucial times like this.
I finally got through but there was about 10 minutes left by the time I did so what did I do? I bolted of course!
Why did my gate have to be the one at the very end!?!?!?
I was slowly losing hope…but I took comfort in the fact that there were a few others sprinting as much as me in the same direction, so I assumed that they were fighting to catch the same flight as me. This was motivating within itself to keep running and not to give up.
I still wasn’t sure if I’d make it to the gate on time…but I did!! I vividly remember that by the time I arrived, I was sweating profusely and a kid was standing near me who was panting aloud. Looking back it was pretty funny but at the time, breathing was painful and I was uncomfortably drenched in sweat.
YESSSS!! I made it!
I walked through the gate and into the plane, eventually finding my seat.
After I got comfortable, I remember this young petite girl with almost red hair dropping her stuff in the middle seat next to me and asking where the toilets were. I pointed ahead and she left to go to the toilets straight away. I noticed her stuff on her chair because her passport was hanging out indiscreetly (anybody could have stolen it) and I thought that was a big no-no. When she got back, I pointed it out to her but she didn’t seem phased at all:
She responded… “You two seem like trustworthy people” and that’s how we started talking to each other.
Sadly, I can’t remember her name at all but I’m going to use Rita as an alias.
After I realised Rita already travelled to India alone, I latched onto her, trying to squeeze as much advice out of her as I could. My anxious, over-planning and curious self naturally wanted advice. I still remember Rita’s first piece of advice like it was yesterday.
“Get a knife” (to fend off all the sleazy men)
In retrospect, I realise how bad her advice was (lol). All it did was make my imagination go crazy and cause me more anxiety and fear. I thought to myself – “what kind of a place is one where women are recommended to carry a knife to protect themselves? This place must be pretty %^&*^!”
She then proceeded to calm me down and say that it’s not that bad and that she really enjoys India. She told me that the only bad thing to happen to her was when she walked down the street by herself once, a guy followed her and whipped his ‘manhood’ out and said he wanted to have sex with her (I’m saying it indirectly because the proper word for a man’s ‘junk’ just doesn’t sound nice) – I think he was chasing her and she was lucky enough to find two other guys which agreed to keep her company. The creepy guy gave up once he saw her with the two guys.
I was mortified when I heard this story.
She then proceeded to tell me another story when she remembered another bad incident. This happened when she was sick, staying with her boyfriend and while her boyfriend ducked out of home for a short while. A guy who was at the same place (I think security or a police officer?) attempted to sexually abuse her while she was alone. She screamed but luckily, her boyfriend came back just in time and nothing happened.
By this stage…I was petrified. I didn’t really want to be told things which would scare me before arriving in India, but in Rita’s defence, I did ask her to tell me her worst stories to prepare myself mentally for issues which could have happened to me.
Rita and I continued to talk but about other things during the flight. I told her my plans and she offered me a roof over my head in Dehradun and Rishikesh. She also said she’d show me around. I kicked myself for pre-booking my accommodation which, at the time, I thought I’d already paid for all of it and had no choice but to go.
Tip #3 Do not over-plan your accommodation. If you use booking.com for accommodation in India and want to cancel after, you can usually cancel without any extra fees. Your room/bed isn’t usually pre-paid for and seems like most hostels deal with payment in person. Don’t quote me 100% on this but I got away with cancelling without paying the full cancellation fee 😊
Tip #4 If you use booking.com for India note that no pre-payment is done via the website. You have to pay the full cost in person. Always make sure you have the cash amount of the cost of your accommodation before you get to the place. Not all places accept card in India.
I still wanted to meet up with Rita for safety and comfort reasons so I asked her for her Facebook name. At the time, we obviously didn’t have any data to search for each other so I wrote down her name on a piece of paper and gave her my email address.
She also told me to get a sim card at the airport because it was impossible to get one elsewhere and to use Ola instead of Uber for transport because it was more widely used, and cheaper!
We talked a little more but ended up chilling in our own space until the pilot announced that we were about to land. Rita and I shared some of her foreign snacks from the Philippines and started talking again for a little bit but after we landed, we said our goodbyes and parted ways.
Part 3: Day (night) 1 – my arrival in Delhi
I remember expecting to smell shit when I got off the plane.. (India is infamous for being stinky) but to me, there wasn’t any smell. I followed the signs at the airport and walked towards customs and immigration.
When I reached the immigration desk I was worried that I didn’t have the right documents to be granted a visa because there was a paranoid voice inside my head which told me that I might have been scammed with my visa application. But I got through fine – they stamped my passport! Woo!
Tip #5 You (don’t really) need a flight out of India to be granted your tourist visa.
It is commonly agreed you must have a flight out of India to be granted a tourist visa into India, but from my experience and discussions with many fellow travellers, I found that 99% of the immigration department didn’t check to see if I had a return flight and didn’t check many others’ too. I only came across one traveller who got their outbound flight checked. So while it is a formal requirement, it’s not really necessary in practice. But if you go in without a flight out – you do run the risk of being refused entry. To be on the safe side, it’s a good idea to buy the cheapest possible ticket out of the country, to reserve a flight out without paying for it, or to get a flight with flexible dates (no change of date fee).
While I was waiting to go through customs and immigration, I met a Korean guy along the way who was also traveling by himself (I also forgot his name so I will call him Kyong). Unlike me, Kyong had already travelled to many countries already and was going to many more…thanks to his parents (who were funding his entire trip – Jealous!!!). Kyong and I discussed our plans and set the intention of sightseeing together so we exchanged details – I gave him my photography page because this was one of the easiest ways to find me since I didn’t know my facebook ID and my facebook name is so common. But I stupidly didn’t get his contact details.
Tip #6 If you want to catch up with anyone you meet, get more than one contact detail (get a mobile number, facebook ID and email address too!) or know your facebook ID in advance. I got the spelling of the Rita’s name wrong so I was never able to contact her. Although I gave her my email, she never ended up contacting me. No biggie though 😊 I also realised afterwards that my photography page was hard to search normally on Facebook so Kyong wouldn’t have been able to find me.
On the way out, I saw an AirTel stand, which is a huge telecommunications company in India and recalled what Rita said on the plane– “get a sim-card at the airport because it’s almost impossible to get a sim-card anywhere else”
Because I believed her, I felt the need to have a sim immediately and went to get one straight away.
The first thing I wanted to know was – how much???
- Sales rep: “2000 rupees for unlimited calls and 2GB of data for 2 months”
- Me: “is that 2GB for 2 months?”
- Sales rep: “2GB per day”
- Sold!!! 2GB of data a day and unlimited calls for 2 months – sounds like a great deal! (All for AUD$40).
One of the guys at the stand took my passport to photocopy and gave me my sim card with a receipt which had my number, the details of the sim card and process in activating the sim card. He circled my number while telling me that was my Indian number, circled a different telephone number (the number to call to activate my sim card) and explained – “it will take 24 hours to activate. Call this number to activate the sim.”
My first thought – that’s annoying – why can’t it activate straight away??? I honestly thought setting up a sim card would be like in Australia where activation happens almost straight away (usually up to 4 hours maximum). I had no choice but to rely on international roaming in the meantime.
Tip #7 be aware that sim cards take up to 48 hours to activate in India and you need your original passport to get a sim card.
Tip #8 if you’re going to Delhi, do not get a sim card at the airport. You pay an airport premium. Organise it at a local telephone shop or through the reception desk at your place of accommodation. I realised this afterwards when I talked to other fellow travellers which told me they paid about 700 rupees for the same deal, which is about half the price I paid ☹
Tip#9 Take a picture of the receipt you’re given with your sim card with the details to set up the sim card.. I say this because I almost lost my receipt and it’s just so much hassle to find these details again. Better safe than sorry and taking a picture is super easy.
I finally got out of the airport!!! There were so many drivers waiting at the entrance. I was expecting to see a guy holding a piece of paper with my name on it, just like the hostel told me. I looked left and right from where I was standing and couldn’t see my name anywhere. I thought maybe they’re in a different area. I decided to walk up and down with my massive luggage case but still no luck – I couldn’t see my name anywhere. I seemed to find every other Chinese name apart from my own (maybe over-emphasizing here).
Because I get paranoid and have a tendency to self-doubt, I walked up and down a few more times to look again, slower and slower each time – in case I missed my name somewhere. But I definitely couldn’t see it. I had no luck in finding the guy I was looking for. I was confused and worried…and was wondering what I could do. I had an Indian sim which wasn’t activated yet…and I wanted to call the hostel to see what was going on. I decided to use my Australian sim card to call the hostel.
I grabbed my piece of paper with the hostel’s number on it and dialled away.
Yes! It rang through…but nobody picked up.
Hmmmm…. This is not good.
I thought I’d try again…no answer….
I tried a few more times but still no luck!
I had no idea what to do. I didn’t feel comfortable getting into a taxi because I was scared they would scam me and I was so uncertain about everything (plus I already pre-booked this driver).
I remember seeing a non-uber/Ola ‘taxi’ stand which looked legitimate (I can’t remember the name!) but I wished I took that because it would have saved me a lot of waiting time.
I decided not to give up and tried calling again.
Finally! An answer! I gave my details to the receptionist and asked him where my driver was.
Receptionist: “don’t stress, I will call the driver” and then he hung up.
I sat out the front of the airport and waited for about 20 minutes with no call back. I got impatient, so I called back.
The same guy told me the driver was on his way to me and to just wait where I was (in front of KFC). I agreed.
I thought I would have had to wait about 5-10 minutes considering my hostel contacted the driver…But seriously, I sat there in front of the KFC…waiting by myself at around midnight for like an hour before this guy came up to me with a piece of paper that had my name on it. Turns out, he drove out to get dinner.
My driver grabbed my luggage, took me to the carpark and told me to wait near the entrance. He then walked off. I had no idea what was happening but realised after that he went to get his car. I remember standing close to another foreigner who looked like he was in India for business. His driver had a suit and picked him up in a nice luxury car. I was secretly hoping for the same. But then came my driver…in a really old bombshell of a car…
I thought to myself: “Oh well… this is what you’ve organised.”
I hopped in after he put my luggage in the car. And the journey to my hostel FINALLY began after what seemed like 2 long hours at the airport!
My driver was friendly. Although his English wasn’t the best, we could make conversation. He told me it would take about 15-20 minutes to get to the hostel. He asked where I was from, told me about his life and about Indian weddings. He was from the north of India where he lived among the mountains. He was working hard with the driving business to pay for his children’s schooling.
The ride definitely didn’t take 15-20 minutes. There was a lot of traffic even at that hour of then night. We arrived to Madpackers Hostel after 45 minutes.
He then asked for his fee – “1400 rupees”.
I was shocked at the price but paid anyway because I was too tired and uneducated to realise the price was too high……
Tip#10 always ask the price of things before you agree to getting any service and check your options. Find out how much a taxi ride should cost and how to pronounce your destination in the local language. I realise in hindsight that that fee was WAY too much. Other people paid as little as 400-600 rupees from the airport to our hostel.
Other airport transport tips I learnt from research and talking to other travellers
- Tip#11 if you’re on a budget, don’t organise a driver from the airport
- Tip#12 be aware of the airport transport scams! None happened to me but one did happen to a couple of English girls I met. They got picked up from the airport via taxi where their taxi driver pretended to call their hostel to make them think their hostel was suddenly fully booked so they were forced to stay at another place (where the taxi driver would get commission from). They refused to let the girls speak to hostel themselves and then proceeded to take them to a shop with highly inflated prices to buy things with a premium price tag.
My driver stopped in front of what looked like an apartment building and let me out with my horribly huge luggage.
Tip #13 Travel light. Use a backpack. My biggest mistake.
I walked to the entrance and noticed a bunch of stairs…. (FML)
I slowly but surely dragged my luggage up…only to find another flight of stairs…and another… I was exhausted by this point.
But as I was having a break and standing there…a friendly guy was walking up and started talking to me. I didn’t realise at the time but he worked for Madpackers Hostel and offered to help me bring my luggage up the stairs to where I needed to go and of course I accepted his offer!
I finally got to the reception area. The place looked cool. There was writing everywhere on the walls and it felt cosy from the moment I stepped in. There were a few other people checking in as well, and a few people sleeping in the reception/common area. I was next in line to check in.
I gave my passport, paid for my room and a 500 rupee deposit in cash. The receptionist then showed me my dorm and my bed. It was dark and everyone was already asleep. I was a little disappointed (with everyone being asleep). The dorm itself was spacious, modern and clean but I was really hoping to meet people straight away.
“Looks like my opportunity was taken away tonight…” (…or so I thought).
I wasn’t ready to go to bed because I just arrived. I wanted to relax and wind down and settle in so I decided to go to the rooftop which looked great in the pictures online.
There were a couple of guys sitting there, smoking and drinking so I worked up the courage to ask if I could join them instead of sitting by myself and being antisocial. I wanted to interact with others and meet as many people as I could. They welcomed me with open arms and we started talking about our travels and experiences for an hour or so until one of the guys went to bed.
Not long after, two other guys joined us at the table. They were a gay couple from Turkey who were so lovely. They provided us with drinks and some snacks and we played a Turkish drinking game they played in their country where we got to learn about one another. I think it got to about 3am when we finally decided to go to bed.
The beautiful gay couple I met at Madpackers Hostel
The gay couple were staying in the same 10-person dorm as me in. We took turns using the bathroom to get ready for bed. The bathroom was spacious but I definitely wasn’t prepared at all. After all, I had no experience in sleeping in a hostel. I struggled finding my stuff in my luggage in the dark and I’m pretty sure I made a bit of noise, which made me feel guilty.
Tip #14 If you’re staying in a hostel or sharing a room in any way – prepare your stuff for the next day the night before when everyone is awake to minimise noise and guilt
I eventually found my toothbrush and other toiletries, went into the bathroom to brush my teeth only to realise I needed to get some bottled water, which reception was selling.
Tip #15 it’s safer to avoid drinking tap water, but you can risk it if you’re daring enough. If you risk it, you must be willing to accept the consequence of ‘Dehli belly’.
It was only 20 rupees for a bottle but I only had 2000 rupee notes. The guy at the desk didn’t have any change so he let me take a bottle if I promised to pay later.
I also wanted to have a shower because I always feel dirty after flying. I got my stuff ready and hopped in the shower….only to realise the shower was COLD!!!
Tip #16 be prepared for cold showers in India. Hot showers are a luxury.
Tip #17 get small change as fast as you can – the most convenient place is your place of accommodation.
Once I managed to brush my teeth and have a shower, I had to prepare my bed. I grabbed my blanket and pillow which were stored in my designated locker. Unfortunately, I was on the top bunk so I had to figure out a way to make sure my stuff secure in the dark because the hostel didn’t provide locks for the lockers. I couldn’t be bothered trying to fit my luggage in the locker at this time so I tied it with my bicycle lock against the bed frame to avoid making more noise. The rest of the stuff I put on my bed and decided to sleep with.
Tip #18 make sure you bring a padlock with you for hostels!
I finally could lie down and rest. The beds were comfortable, blanket was warm and I was content.
I survived day one in Dehli!
Turns out…many of the things Rita said were not entirely accurate and the fears she implanted into my mind didn’t come close to happening to me during my trip.
Tip #19 don’t believe everything someone says – remember that you should see and learn things yourself …even if it is the hard way.